The Evil Dead (1982)

So much has been written about EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN (and rightly so) that sometimes it's easy to forget that before we had an Ash who spouted such quips as "Swallow this" and "Groovy," while elevating the art of the pratfall to new heights, we had Ashley, who basically cowers in fear for 75+ minutes until he's forced by circumstance to fight back, only to be destroyed by the terror in the woods...

The original EVIL DEAD, filmed in 1979 but not released until 1982, is a far cry from it's remake/sequel. The intent of buds Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell was simple - to create a horror experience that started at "unrelenting" and only moved up from there. The setup is purposefully short: five college friends drive to an old cabin in the woods for some fun away from school. Once there they find a dusty tape recorder that when played reawakens the evil forces that live in the woods. The remainder of the movie is spent building layer upon layer of gore and horror on each member of the group until only one man remains...

While today the effects and make-up seem severely dated, there are still more than enough moments to cause viewers to look away: Shelly's rape and possession by the forest is incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Her later stabbing of Linda in the heel with a pencil looks fake but revolting at the same time - likewise the gorging of Scott's (the other guy) eyes. Unlike it's predecessor, the first EVIL DEAD has no real intention of being tongue-in-cheek; the emphasis is always on mounting terror.

However, the charm and allure of EVIL DEAD isn't the what or the why of the movie; it's the how. Specifically, how a young, first time feature director was able to turn movie-making on its head with his innovative camera-work and eye for motion. Raimi is the real star here. Whether it's strapping the camera to a plank and ramming it through a window, shooting from the roof of a moving van, or floating across a lake on a raft being dragged by your producer and star, Raimi makes up for his minuscule budget by creating a signature style that would be a trademark of many of his later films, including both SPIDER-MAN movies (anyone who watches the scene in SPIDER-MAN 2 where Doc Ock comes back to life on the operating table will know right away what I'm talking about).

Bruce Campbell here is merely a shadow of what he will eventually do with the role of Ash. Here his role is supposed to be the coward - the one who is paralyzed with fear, unable to act. It makes it that much stronger a shock when you find that he's the only one left standing at the end of the movie (although, admittedly he doesn't stand for long as the closing shot shows). The lack of any strong characters I think hinders the movie a bit - your focus is always more on trying to keep up with the pace rather than worrying about character development. One of the many great improvements of EVIL DEAD 2 is the build up of everyone involved - humans and Deadites alike.

Short, fast, furious (but without the cars) - EVIL DEAD 24 years later still delivers on the words famously emblazoned on the poster by Stephen King:

"...The most ferociously original horror movie of the year..."